Sony Announces Handycam NEX-VG20

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Sony revealed the Handycam NEX-VG20 today, an interchangeable lens digital HD video camera that is intended to replace the current Handycam NEX-VG10.

Phil Bouchillon, a senior product manager for Sony, explained that there were “four key value propositions” that were followed when designing the VG20: the sensor, the sound, the lenses, and the design. Indeed, many of the VG20’s improvements come by way of its new Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor and BIONZ processor, which Sony claims will also provide a faster auto focus and better focus assist, especially when using manual focus.

In fact, the NEX-VG20 enjoys the benefits of a number of advancements over its direct predecessor, the VG10. It can now shoot HD (1920 x 1080) video in AVCHD at both 24p and 60p framerates (the VG10 could only shoot 30p), plus its stills see a resolution boost up to 16.1 megapixels. Also, the VG10 could only take stills in JPEG format, whereas the VG20 can save images in both JPEG and RAW formats. Other improvements include a remote control and the direct copy ability, which allows users to connect and record directly to an external hard drive.

As for high quality sound, Sony has that in spades with the VG20, which sports a quad capsule spatial array stereo microphone. With improved directional pickup, this new microphone supports stereo and 5.1 channel surround sound with audio level control.

The lens mounting system on the VG20 is designed to offer as much choice as possible for users while maintaining easy operability. “The VG20 has the benefits of a large imager and interchangeable lenses combined with easy operation and superior sound,” said Bouchillon. The VG20, he said, will be compatible with Sony E-mount lenses, Sony A-mounts (with the use of the LA-EA2 adapter), and, eventually, even third-party E-mounts and adapters thanks to a “third party ecosystem” that Sony is developing. He explained that the VG20 features an interchangeable lens cap and will be compatible with the four new E-mount lenses that the company will be releasing in the coming months, bringing Sony’s total number of E-mounts to 10 by 2012.

VG10 Hands on impressions
I would say that Sony achieved its goal of giving the VG20 a comfortable design and smart ergonomics. Aside from the fact that the camera could be held comfortably in my hands (despite its rather large footprint), I also enjoyed the fact that it had user-friendly features like an additional record button that is located near the front of the camera, an ideal location for low-angle shooting. Its assignable control dial, an intelligent feature in the first place, had been relocated to the front as well, giving me easy access to it even when the LCD was closed (it was previously located behind the door).

Though I enjoyed the ergonomics of the VG20 and found it comfortable to hold in my hands, I did find it to be on the rather hefty side. Holding it up to your face to use the viewfinder for extended periods of time will probably result in some pretty quick fatigue for the average user; you’ll probably be more comfortable whenever you’re using the flip out LCD screen in tandem with the handgrip and belt handle.

On that note, I enjoyed using the LCD screen quite a bit, as it was high-quality and offered a roomy three inches of real estate. It was also a touchscreen — yet another upgrade from the VG10 — and it was exceptionally responsive. In a minor but convenient change, this new LCD screen with TruBlack technology could also stay on when the camera was connected to an external source via its HDMI port. And, of course, its ability to rotate 270 degrees made it easy for shooting at various angles, especially during the aforementioned scenario when I was holding the camera by the handgrip.

I had mixed feelings about the viewfinder, though. I appreciated the fact that it displayed plenty of helpful information including resolution, video format, battery life, remaining memory, etc., and I thought that the picture looked pretty crisp. But after having spent some time with the outstanding OLED viewfinders on the Alpha cameras (and enjoyed how closely it projected the image to the eye, so there was little to no border) I felt like I was looking down an extremely long hallway when using the viewfinder on the VG20. In comparison to the almost true-to-life display of the OLED viewfinders, it seemed like the image in the VG20 viewfinder was in a tunnel, and I didn’t care for how far away it was from my eye.

Oddly enough, Sony did not equip the demo units with any storage, so I was unable to record anything and get a peek at the quality of the VG20’s video and photos. There was even a HDTV sitting right there next to the units, so I would have loved the opportunity to record some video and take a look at it in all its 1080/60p glory on the big screen, but unfortunately I could not.

Pricing and availability
There will be two versions of the VG20 when it hits shelves this November. The standard NEX-VG20 is just the body and will run you $1599 while the NEX-VG20H will cost $2199 and will ship with a supplied lens. The lens is the same as the one supplied with the VG10, the SEL18200 (an $800 value, according to Sony), and it has an 11x optical zoom. Both models will also come with a windshield and a NP-FV70 battery.

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